De-Normalizing Normal Human Behavior

Hi Readers! In response to a post about schools and camps outlawing hugs (for legal and fear-of-perverts issues) a reader named Melanie wrote this:

When will society as a whole stop modifying, changing and politicizing every single normal human action? The rules are becoming so numerous and far-reaching that it’s difficult to know how to act when outside your own home! Are we breeding a society of unemotional, anti-human, mini robots with all this nonsensical, fear-minded thinking?

It hit home with me, since I think everything from baby classes on how to “clap,” to new contraptions to “help” non-disabled children learn to walk, to whole books on the “right” way to talk to your child  in every situation are making us all forget that things can unfold pretty normally and they’ll be okay.

From jokes to hugs to talking, walking and eating, let’s devote a few days to (in the immortal words of Irving Berlin) doin’ what comes naturally.  Happy weekend! L

48 Responses

  1. Yes, they now do “air hugs” at school. My poor darling 1st grader had to “air hug” her best friend. We homeschool now. Nothing but real hugs here! 🙂

  2. I have Aspergers, and yet my mom didn’t need all this stuff to raise me. I still find it pathetic that some kids are raised like they are retarded (another thing: Political correctness. Yes, the term is Retarded Not, “developmentally handicapped”. It is like saying the word Orange can’t be used because some idiots use it as an insult).

    Heck, despite me being completely functional (I just need someone to keep an eye on me in case if I get stressed), I got money from the government and huge advantages given to me (Notetakers, double time on exams, etc). But hey, who am I to argue if the government decides to help pay for university?

  3. And sorry, but I have no clue how I managed to get myself into that mini rant

  4. Your reader’s comment reminds me of an excerpt I recently came across from Federalist Paper #62:

    “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.”

  5. […] Scary.  I can tell already I’ll be a free-range parent. […]

  6. IMO, the people who think normal human behavior like hugs and kisses is perverted if your not related to the child, is probably perverted themselves. What other kind of mind is there to think a sign of affection for a child that isn’t yours – but someone who’s most likely close to them and their family, or even if a teacher who’s kind and sincere – except one that is perverted to begin with.

    I do recall getting the occasional hugs from teachers back when I was in elementary school, for job well done. Telling me they were proud of my accomplishments. They even did it in front of my parents during parent interview days. Not once did my parents ever took it negatively, they were actually even more proud that my teachers gave high regards to me. And those teachers NEVER molested or took advantage of any of their students.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see anyone hugging anyone else, child or adult, I don’t think anything more than someone showing their approval and affection. BUT, if it was clearly in an inappropriate manner (you can usually tell, especially when you see the reaction of the person on the receiving end), then that’s a whole different story.

    Things like this are just a classic case of a few people’s misdeeds affecting the entire population. Giving already paranoid parents more to fear. And thanks to ratings hog media, isolated and few (by the nations ratio) incidences become blown way out of proportion. Here’s an idea, maybe to eliminate the number of real perverts in the school board, or daycares, or camp retreats, have a them all pass a psych evaluation first. This may not get all of them, but it should help decreasing the numbers. That’s if the powers that be are willing to spend the extra dollars for something like this, instead of using it on a new car or for one of their vacations in the caymans.

  7. I happen to be reading the Anne of Green Gables books, and in one she visits a student at his home, goes in his room, and he lays his head in her lap. It’s very sweet, but as I was reading it I was cracking up because of how ANY of that, even written in fiction, would be interpretted today.

  8. @Emily: shows that times are a changin’, and not necessarily for the better. Kind of puts even more of a meaning to the saying “the good ol’days”.

  9. I was entering a contest recently where you had to “vote” for your favorite family things to do and favorite family/child/baby products and services. Two categories: “best family exercise class” and “best child snack (prepared)” made me realize how complicated and consumerist child raising has become. To those two questions, I answered: going for a bike ride/walk and apples/bananas. We don’t need a class for everything and we don’t need a product for everything to raise happy, healthy kids.

  10. Humans are social animals and NEED touch. This sort of news is exactly why I am considering homeschooling my child.

    BTW, I have heard of your book but just found your blog (and I’m glad I did!). I have subscribed.

    I also blog about raising my son to be free and also being a free-thinking religious minority:

    Thanks for all your work!

  11. I still find it pathetic that some kids are raised like they are retarded (another thing: Political correctness. Yes, the term is Retarded Not, “developmentally handicapped”. It is like saying the word Orange can’t be used because some idiots use it as an insult).

    I hate the term “PC”. Most of what people call “PC” to deride it is what I would call plain old-fashioned good manners.

    What you are referring to *actually* fits the term, but it’s more accurately described as the euphemism treadmill. It used to be more common with “curse words” – as one term became more known as referring to, say, a woman’s private parts, it became less acceptable and another one came in. Nowadays our society is slowly starting to frown more on slurs than on blasphemous or scatological terms, so they modify more quickly.

  12. “….to whole books on the “right” way to talk to your child in every situation are making us all forget that things can unfold pretty normally and they’ll be okay.”

    When you said this about parenting (and this can be translated to the whelm of Political Correctness/ out of home behavior), I automatically got the image from Harry Potter’s 5th movie where all the students were taking their OWLS exam with Delores Umbridge standing at the from of the exam room watching everyone, making sure that they are not doing anything out of this preconceived idea of doing things and not getting out of line. Translate this to parenting that parents must do x, y, and z and the political police is watching you and make a big to do about any small toes out of line. Same applies to any kind of behavior out of the home, and even being home is no guarantee.

  13. @Emily in one of the books (Anne of the Island I think) She refers to Gilbert “making love” to her on a bridge. Of course the phrase meant something different back when the book was written than it does now. Didn’t stop a parent from flipping her lid at me a couple of years ago.

  14. It isn’t just kids.
    Not long ago I started a teaching job at a newly created school and during orientation I was delighted to find myself reunited with an old friend from high school. We never dated but we should have. Anyway, we we happy to see each other and spent much of the orientation week getting reacquainted. The orientation was filled with the usual combination of team building nonsesne like building towers out of legos (and not a thing about lesson plans, BTW) and the very last thing we did was a circle exercise called “handshake or hug.” Each person turns to the person on their right and asks them for either a handshake or hug. What was the point? I don’t know. Most people asked for handshakes but when I turned to my friend I said “hug” and she happily gave me a short, non-sexual, hug. The other people in the group reacted like we had assaulted each other. Shock was written on their faces. The facilitator even looked taken aback. From that day on I never fit in. (I left soon after anyway.) What was the point of asking for handshake or hug if a hug was some form of harassment? and besides, we’re adults!

  15. It’s really sad how normal human contact is becoming more and more limited. One of the best things I’ve seen with my kids so far at school was the first day my extremely shy son ran up to hug his older sister’s kindergarten teacher. The entire time she’d been in the class, he’d been very shy with the teacher and always hid behind me, and she quickly took the message and let him be. Stopped to see her the next school year, and he was running up for a hug just as fast as his big sister.

    How can you take that away from children?

  16. I love this blog, but I can’t help but wondering if you’re inadvertently undercutting your own positions by taking randomly-generated Google AdSense ads. Not for the first time I have clicked through from my RSS feed to read the blog only to find an ad like this one:

    Ads by Google
    Child Internet Safety
    Created By Social Media Experts! Use SafetyWeb To Protect Your Child

    Talk about a mixed message.

    Just curious what your thoughts are on this.

  17. Icalasari – It’s polite to call people what they want to be called. The world changes. I’m sure you’re every bit as capable as I am of keeping up.

    I agree with Uly, most PC ideas are just good manners.

    Plus, retarded isn’t accurate in most cases.

  18. When hugs are considered perverted, only perverts will give hugs.

    Re Anne of Green Gables: I don’t know why we have to freak out over books/movies/behaviors that were once acceptable or had a different meaning. Just explain the cultural differences, and move on.

    American kids (and probably their parents, too) also need to know that certain actions do not mean the same thing in other cultures that they do here. There are countries (including Western, developed countries) where children of the same sex (in high school, even) hold hands, meaning nothing but friendship, and where adult males kiss each other on the lips in friendly greeting. An American with only American experience would feel mighty uncomfortable there, and might gravely offend his hosts.

    I fear that the friendly hug, along with other forms of non-sexual physical affection — so desperately needed by humans and other mammals — will indeed take on another meaning if we allow it. We should fight that battle in the courts, we should fight it in the media, but most of all we should fight it by making free, friendly, non-sexual physical affection so common that no one will be able to associate it with perversion.

  19. @Icalasari — I agree with Gee, “retarded” isn’t especially accurate in most cases. My daughter has a lot of developmental delays, especially in verbal communication and social skills but on the other hand, how many two-year-olds do you know who can read? Describing her as “retarded” isn’t some anti-PC statement of personal awesomeness, it would be reductive and wrong. She’s developmentally delayed in certain areas and very advanced in others.

    Why would you choose to use a hurtful word to describe another person anyhow? Just because you’ve decided it’s not offensive to you doesn’t mean that you don’t know is. Just like I would never decide that a racist slur “doesn’t really mean anything” and start using it in my day-to-day conversation.

    But back on topic, I’m astounded at the number of books cranked out about the “right” way to talk to children. I’ve never bought any of them, but have been given about half a dozen popular titles — and that’s just for NT kids. I’ve also been given about 20 books on how to talk to children with auditory processing disorders and autism and so on, and I’m betting my collection is just the tippy-top of the insane iceburg. I’ve never read more than a few pages of any — the contents are either laughably common-sense or deliberately anxiety-provoking.

  20. Hugs. Abrazos. Gee, I wonder what others think when they see members of the Boy Scout troop with which I am associated. A majority of the members, youth and adult, are of Hispanic ancestry. Everyone tends to greet and say goodbye with a hug.
    As for those youngsters who might be a little different, I was a leader of a Girl Scout troop many years ago. I received a call from a girl asking if she could join our troop. She met the age requirement so I said, of course.
    At that point, continuing in somewhat halted speech, she told me she was in a “slow learner class”. I pointed out that our very large troop would not find this any greater challenge than the blind or deaf girls we had among the “normal” kids.
    The sound was deafening when this “slow learner” finished her first mile swim and the entire troop cheered.
    The term “free range kids” had not come about then, but it certainly would have applied to our troop. When they’d ask “Can we?”, the adult response was “Can you?” Then they set about doing it, whether it was a weeklong bicycle trip, backpacking in the High Sierra, running a Halloween Party for the neghborhood in the park, they did it, even as detractors said. “Girls can’t do that.”

  21. Loopy Loo, Gee: I mean when they are officially diagnosed. Some people who aren’t even affected (whether through being close to a person who is or actually is a person who is) take offense to words.

    Naturally, if a person who has been diagnosed takes offense, then by all means don’t use it. But when a person uses a word in a non offensive way, they shouldn’t have to worry about someone jumping on them and calling them offensive

    It applies to all terms that are “banned” due to PC

  22. Naturally, if a person who has been diagnosed takes offense, then by all means don’t use it. But when a person uses a word in a non offensive way, they shouldn’t have to worry about someone jumping on them and calling them offensive

    People generally don’t complain unless you are offending them. And if you’re offending them, by definition, you’re being offensive. Now you have to decide whether you care about their opinion or not, whether you think they’re reasonable or not – but that doesn’t mean you were necessarily right either.

  23. I wonder, if all that “don’t touch” has anything to do with overall sexualization of everything. Here in Europe, we can’t have a TV ad for mineral water without some nymph-like perfect nude. In theatre, playing good ole Shakespeare without introducing at least one naked actor would be considered terribly old-fashioned. Commenting about too much sex or nudity in the movies labels one as hopelessly prudish.
    So – maybe is the pedophile angst the only sex taboo left to stand?

  24. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal that might amuse you.

  25. Has the world gone mad? Such a simple and life-affirming gesture should not become so complicated. 60 million viewers might think hugs are good. Of course there is a nay-sayer in every crowd, but I hope in my lifetime that hugs don’t become obsolete.

  26. I like the idea of getting political. My co-teachers and I have gone into the streets of Seoul with “Free Hugs” signs. Why not do it with your kids? Why not do it on a specific day, in every city you can reach? Why not tell the press, and be prepared with a message that “Hugs will not be legislated away”?

  27. My son is a hugger. From daycare teachers to complete strangers, he likes to give hugs. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and I hope he continues with it.

    The only thing his daycare teachers have asked is that we work on him to ask first before giving a hug. Not every child wants a hug when my son wants to give it. I’m okay with teaching him that.

    And I totally agree with Melanie’s comment that spurred this posting. I fear for some of the kids that are growing up today.

  28. Wow. I guess they’re not going to let Amma the Hugging Saint come to their schools!

  29. Would you believe, last week, I saw an article where some psychologist said we must stop kissing our own little children on the lips. Why? Because (a) they will get aroused (vomit!) and (b) they will go to school, kiss a classmate, and be labeled a sex offender.

    Don’t kiss your baby or she’ll grow up to be a sex offender.

    I am seriously wondering if I’m on the right planet this week.

    How about not labeling 6-year-olds as sex offenders when/if they pucker their little lips in school? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? (I refuse to acknowledge issue (a) any further.)

  30. Regarding PC, I agree and disagree with Uly. I agree that we should be polite. “Politeness is to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way.” Using “Retard” in a derogatory way is not polite. I agree with that.

    But I disagree that that’s all PC is about. PC is a subtle way to change the way people think about things. For example, why is “African-American” more PC than “black”? (By the way, the only “AA/black” person who ever talked to me about this says he prefers “black.”) Personally I do not think of people as “black,” but “African-American” implies some exotic identity that is rarely accurate. (They are not African, just American, as are my kids who weren’t even born here. Or, if they are African-American, then I’m German-English-Dutch-Scottish-Irish-Jewish-Hungarian-Welsh-American, and I am certainly NOT “white.” In fact, being called “white” offends me as it is inaccurate and full of inaccurate, negative connotations.) PC terms help prolong the focus on characteristics that do not and should not matter. The PC machine has an agenda to keep the distinction going. And well-meaning individuals play right into it. It makes me want to vomit when I hear/read someone saying “my dear, lovely AA friend” when they would never say “my dear, lovely CC friend,” especially when the discussion has nothing to do with race.

  31. Sorry for the double post – I tried to stop the first one to make a small correction. Lenore, if you could delete the first one of the double comments when you get a chance, that would be great.

  32. SKL, in my experience, people *generally* don’t mind what you call them so long as you do it in a fairly inoffensive way. To use an example that might come up in my own life, there’s the “person-first language” issue. Many autistic adults prefer the term “autistic” to “person with autism”, for a number of perfectly valid reasons. But in general nobody is going to correct you if you say “person with autism” unless you’re super obnoxious and are going around telling us we’re wrong. It’s just not THAT big a deal, though once somebody says something you should, of course, try to use their preferred term.

    If you’re judging people based upon their race, it doesn’t really matter if you call them African-American or black or just go for “the n-word”, and most people realize that.

    Most of the time – this is why the PP’s comment was strange to me in a way! – people who cry about the PC Police start off saying something like “OMG UR SUCH A ****” and then get upset that other people, you know, object to this sort of thing. Or they mention a guy they know in a wheelchair “even though he has no reason to have one”, and then are shocked when people point out that Medicare isn’t exactly passing those out like candy these days. If you have one, and you’re not filthy rich, it’s safe to assume you need one.

    As far as African-American goes, the most I’ve ever heard about it is people (rightfully!) complaining when it’s used about people who aren’t American. Nelson Mandela is not African-American.

  33. Actually, Uly, I am not anything like your PC Police suggestion and I detest PC-speak in all forms and fashions. Personally, I find a complete lack of description in most PC terms. In the effort to be warm and fuzzy (or in the effort to include the most amount of people so that everyone has some syndrome and I don’t know which), we’ve incorporated large groups of people under one title. As someone who deals with many people with many different disabilities and ethnicities (and those things actually have a bearing on issues related to my interaction with them), I need to know exactly what I’m dealing with without a lot of guesswork. A file marked “hearing impaired” tells me nothing. Do I need to yell, contact a family member for a hearing aid or get a sign language interpreter? Same with “mentally challenged.” Is the client learning disabled, autistic, seriously retarded, a little crazy (yes, another non-PC term), a lot crazy? The answer means very different things to me. And I hate the term African-American for many reasons and I truthfully know very few black people who use it to refer to themselves.

    One of my favorite TV shows was the episode of Murphy Brown many moons ago where someone said something not intending to offend but someone in the audience stood up to object to a term used, using a term themselves that was objectionable to someone else in the audience and so on for about 10 minutes. It’s a great statement on the complete ridiculousness of PC-speak.

  34. One of the most important things that your baby has to learn is that their caregivers are there to protect them, comfort them, help them and can be trusted. Small children hug important adults in their lives because it reinforces their sense of safety. So, if we teach caregivers not to hug or touch small children in any way, we are inadvertently teaching those children that adults are not a source of comfort and safety. Those children are emotionally out there on their own. Do you think that those children will be anxious and unwilling to take risks? I do.

  35. But, Donna, do you take the time in every conversation and every thread to go “I HATE PC!!!”?

    Because those are the people who “cry PC POLICE!”

  36. I just spent the last 20 minutes lying in bed with my daughter (hugging her against my body) because she was afraid of the noise of the fireworks going on. It’s a good thing I remain anonymous, or I might be afraid to admit that.

    My kids are adopted, but seriously, didn’t most kids get their start in intimate contact with their parents? Isn’t growing up and leaving the nest supposed to be a gradual process? What would we think of a monkey ripping its clinging baby off of its belly or back? Nature could teach us a few things, but are we getting too stupid to understand its lessons? Perhaps this is another reason why it’s so important to keep kids connected with nature.

  37. “But, Donna, do you take the time in every conversation and every thread to go “I HATE PC!!!”?”

    Definitely not. I usually just roll my eyes. There is nothing wrong with PC terms themselves. I just think that the PC-speak trend has made us all uncomfortable talking in anything other than pleasant euphemisms, constantly afraid of saying the wrong word and too easily offended when people never meant offense.

  38. I think it’s only in anglophone cultures that hugging would be considered as abnormal amongst peers or with teachers.

    I live in Italy and here hugging and kissing on the cheeks is done everyday. My son just finished his first round of summer day camp and the camp counsellors (all teenagers and 20somethings) greeted each other with kiss-kiss on the cheeks every morning. The kids were hugged by their counsellors (male and female) and there is nothing sexual about it, just natural affection.

    Even my son’s swim instructor hugs the kids … actually the kids run up to him and hug him and he swings them – all in signs of affection.

    It is very common here to see teenage girls walking with their pinkies linked or teenage boys arm in arm.

    I would rather my kid grow up with affection than being afraid all the time of the perverts he might encounter. He knows that certain behaviours should not be tolerated or accepted by him from others (even from people he knows very well) and I keep remind him.

  39. We belong to a very small Methodist church, about 100 people attend every week. Our Sunday School classes are small, maybe 5 to 7 kids in each. The conference came out with a Safe Sanctuary policy to help us address issues of child safety. Now all of our teachers have to have background checks, their doors have to be open or they need to have multiple teachers in the room. All of a sudden there are “dangers” lurking where there had never been any before. This is how we perpetuate the fear that something inappropriate will happen. Nobody in our sunday school classes changed, same kids, same teachers, but now there’s an added level of caution.

  40. I really love this. I can’t stand when people are taught something they are already going to learn. It’s almost degrading to try to ‘teach’ your child how to walk. They see you doing it every day. I know I’m guilty of doing stuff like this but I try really hard not to.
    As far as the hugging thing goes, it’s sad that we can’t do anything any more. No wonder everyone is longing for love, and finding it in the wrong places.

  41. I live in Mexico and this no-hugging, no-nothing laws seem just unbelievable to me. We could never follow these rules in my country. We are huggers, kissers, etc. by nature… Even though I live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, we (thank God) still see kids playing in parks and ridding their bikes without adult supervision. We have to take certain precautions that we wouldn’t otherwise take if it wasn’t for crime, but other than that, we seem fine with letting our kids run free (most of us, that is). We are also bombarded by all these stuff and classes that babies/kids “need” in order to be “better” at everything, but I try not to succumb and my one year-old is just fine.

  42. The biggest problem with the way people have used PCness is that it stifles dialog.

    PC was originally invented (if that’s the right word) to deal with the reality that how you describe something affects how you think about it. The thinking was that if you described a person as “retarded” then you believed that that person was limited, or retarded, in every way. Whereas, if you described him as having a specific learning disability, (say dyslexia) you would understand that there were areas where he had difficulty, but other areas where he didn’t. The racial/ethnic PCness was an attempt to allow groups to define the language they wished to be used to describe them.

    The main problem with the whole thing is that it has limited dialog. Many people are afraid to use perfectly valid descriptive words for fear that they will use the wrong word and be labeled some sort of “-ist.” Calling me negro does not make you racist. It indicates that perhaps you are a bit older than me, or haven’t kept up on the latest PC terms. On the other hand, calling me African-American and then believing that I am therefore unintelligent is racist.

    Talking about race is hard. PCness has made it harder.

  43. RE: the PC discussion – Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we all just called one another by our names?

    RE: the hugs – It was a huge adjustment when my daughter went from her private Christian preschool to public kindergarten – and the biggest part of that was the no hugging rule. Hugs were plentiful in preschool, and she is a very loving little girl, a friend hugger. It was just a rude shock for her. I don’t get the prohibition at all. Well, I get the CYA a little bit from the teacher end – if you never touch the kid it’s harder to be falsely accused of something (but how often does that really happen? ). But forbiding young kids to mutually hug each other?

  44. My 3 elementary-aged kids are transitioning from a private school to public this year. We went thru all the pro’s and con’s before deciding to switch. However, I now see that we missed one. Particularly my 4th grader has always loved giving her teachers daily hugs. And the teachers treasured them! After reading this post, I’m primed to expect a very different situation come late August. Thankfully, my kids have proven time and again that they are more pliable than I ever imagined. Keeping my fingers crossed!

    Lenore – Love your blog! And would love an easier way to share it with others. I hang out with lots o’ moms on Facebook. I found your FB fan page – maybe you could stream your blog posts thru it? Or, have you ever considered a WordPress plugin like SexyBookmarks?

    Just some passing thoughts :). Cheers!

  45. Just to quiet some concerns, I teach in a very public elementary school, we hug, we hold hands and we tell our students how much we love being their teachers. We even hug parents. We also are a very small close knit community where everyone knows everyone else.

  46. Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

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